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Hot Hardware for the Holidays: A Buyers Guide
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Date: Dec 21, 2005
Section:Misc
Author: Sean Pelletier
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Introduction

With the holidays looming around the corner, and a bit of money burning a hole in your pocket, we here at HotHardware.com thought we'd do what we could to ensure that you spent your hard-earned cash in the most appropriate manner.

Before we begin, it makes sense to outline our approach and illustrate what we're trying to accomplish. It is critical to have reasonable expectations here, as no $1,000 system is going to compete with a $4,000 SLI monster. However, as you will see a budget system does not necessarily mean lackluster performance. In fact, every system we reference in this article would be more than capable of playing any game or running virtually any business/professional application on the market with very fluid performance, at respectable settings.

Those of you who have configured your own systems before might be surprised to see what sort of performance you can purchase on a given budget. As you might expect, the flagship system with its unlimited funding is an absolute monster capable of annihilating any game or benchmark you might throw at it. However, there are a few more surprises in store with the other configurations that might catch your interest.

With the flagship system plan in place, we opted to configure an overclocker's ideal system as well, that would be acceptable for the vast majority of our users. As a result, we opted to avoid using any exotic cooling methods (phase change, water-cooling, peltier, etc.) as it is questionable whether the majority of our readers would want to undertake such an involved process. With that consideration in mind, we decided to use the latest and greatest air cooling hardware and match it to the most overclocking-friendly products we could get our hands on. Obviously, there will be occasions where someone's personal preference might warrant using a different brand or product. However, one can be sure that the system we configured will match our flagship system's performance at the very least and will do so for a fraction of the overall cost.

The final system we configured is perhaps the most exciting of the bunch. For under $1,000 you'd have a system that would offer excellent performance in any application you could possibly throw at it. Going through the configuration, you'll find that we allocated a healthy amount of our budget towards the graphics card. The fact that you can find some extremely capable Athlon 64 processors for a very reasonable price allows us to use an incredibly fast graphics card without the risk of having any serious CPU bottlenecks. Surprisingly enough, there was even enough remaining room in our budget to accommodate a DVD+/-RW, 1GB of memory, a gaming mouse and keyboard, and even a set of solid 5.1 surround speakers. Overall, it's safe to say that many of you will be surprised at what kind of performance you can get for under a thousand dollars these days.

 

 

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Flagship System

For the flagship system, we looked at the industry as a whole and tried to determine what the best hardware combination would be if money was not a factor. In this case, there are various impressions as to what quantifies the "best" hardware. For our purposes, we'll be focusing on creating an FPS monstrosity whose sole purpose is high-resolution gaming.

BFG Tech GeForce 7800GTX BFGR78512GTXOC $749 x 2

A quick glimpse at the benchmarks within our review of the GeForce 7800GTX 512MB and one will quickly see that there is no question which graphics card should be in our flagship system. In nearly every benchmark, a single GeForce 7800GTX is able to dominate the competition. Pairing the card up with a second 512MB GeForce 7800GTX in an SLI configuration results in increased framerates and should allow us to play nearly any title with all the image quality enhancements enabled with ease. In addition, the card features two dual-DVI ports allowing users to make use of some gorgeous displays, such as Apple's 30" Cinema Display, that require dual-link DVI connectivity.

ASUS A8N32-SLI Deluxe $229

With two PCI-Express x16 graphics cards, it seems a bit crazy to opt for a motherboard which supports anything short of two full x16 PCI-Express slots. Based on the nForce4 SLI x16 chipset, the ASUS A8N32-SLI Deluxe runs our flagship graphics cards with no bandwidth limitations or constraints. In addition, the board is equipped with just about every feature a person could ask for. Supporting up to 4GB of memory, the latest dual-core processors, nV RAID, nV Firewall, a soft SLI bridge, passive heatpipe cooling, and an almost dizzying amount of ports this motherboard has every base covered. Overclocking enthusiasts will love the motherboard's wealth of tuning options within the BIOS and its 8-phase power design. Without a doubt, this is a rock-solid board that will allow the user to push their hardware to the limits with no question of stability and reliability.

CORSAIR XMS 2GB (2 x 1GB) PC4000 (TWINX20484000PT)$232

System memory is easily one of the most critical components in terms of stability, reliability, and performance. For the last several years, we've used Corsair XMS modules with fantastic results. The matched kit we've selected will allow ample headroom for overclocking and offer blistering performance with tight timings. With the latest crop of games such as Battlefield 2 and Quake 4 taking advantage of as much memory as you can throw at it, the choice of a 2GB kit was obvious.

 

Western Digital Caviar RE2 WD4000YR 400GB 7200 RPM $218.50 x 2

Given this drive's plentiful supply of RAID-specific features and enhancements, it seems fitting to choose two of these drives to create a high-performance RAID array. Beyond the impressive 16MB cache and SATA support, the drive features RAID-specific time-limited error recovery (TLER) and Rotary Acceleration Feed Forward (RAFF). These features prevent drive fallout and offer higher vibration resistance allowing for higher reliability and performance.

Western Digital Raptor WD740GD 74GB 10,000rpm $136 x 2 (After Rebate)

For our core storage needs, the only fitting choice for a flagship system would be two 74GB Western Digital Raptor drives in a RAID 0 configuration. Spinning at 10,000rpm these consumer drives offer some of the highest read-write performance numbers money can buy. With 800GB worth of secondary drives for storage, the lack of space on these 74GB drives is far outweighed by the impressive performance they provide.

Dell UltraSharp 2405FPW 24" LCD $899.25

Without question, selecting the ideal monitor for our flagship system was the easiest choice of all. With a 24" wide-screen panel, 4 USB 2.0 ports, integrated 9-in-1 flash reader, and a blistering fast 12ms response time the Dell Ultrasharp 2405FPW was the ideal LCD monitor. Gamers can rejoice with an LCD that will allow for ghost-free gaming with more real estate than you can possibly imagine. To top it off, Dell is currently offering an unbelievable deal on this monitor that will make this LCD even more tempting than it already is.

 

 

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Flagship System (Continued)

 

Plextor PX-740A/SW-BL $59.99 (After Rebate)

Without question, the Plextor brand has always been synonymous with quality and performance for the optical drive market. We've opted to select the Plextor PX-740 DVD+/-RW for its ability to burn nearly any format on the market at some impressive speeds.

 

Antec Performance P180 case $124.99

When selecting a case, it is critical to consider noise, cooling, and aesthetics. Typically, it is easy to find a case that covers two of those categories though we rarely see a case that effectively handles all three. The new Antec Performance P180 case is one of those rare exceptions where it effectively covers all considerations. With a unique PSU orientation that places the hot (and noisy) power supply below the motherboard, Antec solves several key issues. First and foremost, installation of the motherboard and possibly a large aftermarket heatsink is now almost trivial with no space constraints caused by a power supply looming directly overhead. The case's three-layer panels also ensure that the system's sound will not be an issue as it effectively dampens noise. 

 

PC Power & Cooling PowerCool 850 SSI $499

PC Power & Cooling is truly the Ferrari of power supplies. Granted, they cost an almost obscene amount of money and you can typically buy three of four of the next-best PSU for the same cost as a single PC Power & Cooling product. However, those fortunate enough to get their hands on one of these products will be gifted with the most robust and stable power supplies on the planet. Complete with 850W of continuous power, 950W of peak power, SLI support, and 15 power headers this product is sure to satisfy even the most demanding user.

 

AMD Athlon 64 FX57 $1,011

With all the competition between motherboards, graphics cards, and other assorted hardware you would think that choosing a processor would be equally difficult. Fortunately, nearly every gaming benchmark on the planet has clearly illustrated the fact that for gaming there is no processor faster than the AMD Athlon64 FX. Currently, the AMD flagship is the Athlon64 FX 57 which runs at a blazingly fast 2.8GHz. At stock speeds, this processor will provide phenomenal performance. Pushing the CPU higher thanks to the exceptional hardware we've selected should result in framerates that are nothing short of amazing.

 

Creative Labs X-Fi Fatal1ty $289.00

With developers putting more and more emphasis on the sound in today's game, it becomes critical to select a product that offers the highest functionality along with the highest performance. As we saw with our initial look at Creative's new X-Fi architecture with our review of the X-Fi XtremeMusic, this new architecture is now the staple of audio performance for the PC. The X-Fi Fatal1ty takes this impressive performance one step further with the inclusion of 64MB of dedicated X-RAM which will allow for the highest possible performance with full audio functionality in the latest and greatest games.

 

Logitech Z5500 speakers $219.98

With the exceptional sound of the X-Fi sound card at our disposal, it was crucial to select a speaker system that would do it justice. Fortunately, we've had ample exposure to Logitech's Z5500 speaker system in the past and have found them to be an incredible option which rivals some dedicated home theater systems. With 505W of power and possibly the largest subwoofer to ever be seen in a PC speaker configuration, the Logitech Z5500's provide audio bliss for anyone fortunate enough to use them. The built in hardware decoding for Dolby Digital and DTS is the icing on the cake for an already exceptional speaker package.

 

Logitech G15 Keyboard  $69.95

Hardcore gamers can now rejoice as Logitech has seen fit to provide the G15 keyboard with gaming-specific features such as a "protected" windows key. When in-game, the Windows key is disabled preventing the dreaded accidental key press that spits you out of your game. The GamePanel LCD also serves up game stats and system information while three levels of key backlighting makes any lighting condition perfect for gaming.

 

Logitech G5 Laser Mouse $53.65

One look at Logitech's new G5 laser mouse and it is easy to see why we've chosen it for this system. This unbelievable new mouse has a user selectable tracking resolution ranging from 2000/800/400 dpi, three sensitivity levels ranging from 400/1200/and 2000dpi, and an adjustable weight cartridge that lets the user select how much of a provided 38g of weight the user wants to customize the weight and feel of the mouse. Overall, there is no substitute for a mouse of this caliber.

 

Thermalright XP90c Heatsink  $66.99

At the end of the day, the performance of the Thermalright XP90c is as close to watercooling performance as you can get with traditional air cooling. Now the term traditional is very loosely used here as the XP90c is anything but your normal copper heatsink. The all copper design incorporates multiple heatpipes routed through a series of copper fins which are then soldered to the copper base for the most effective contact. When paired with a 92mm fan, this 690g behemoth is able to tame event the most unruly processors.

 

Evercool SFF9 92mm fan $8.49

Although nearly any high CFM and low-noise 92mm fan would work here, the Evercool SFF9 seems to be an excellent choice. With 41CFM and a low 22dBA noise level, the Evercool fan is able to provide high performance without the usual jet-engine squeal of most high performance fans.

 

Arctic Silver 5  $5.99

Easily the best bang for the buck, the use of Arctic Silver 5 will have a profound effect on overall cooling performance. When applied correctly, the use of Arctic Silver 5 can drop CPU temperatures by several degrees and can be the difference between an unstable system or a successful overclock.

 

 

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Overclocker's System

For of our next system, our goal was to try to provide similar performance of our flagship system at a significantly lower total system cost. The performance gap at stock speeds would ideally be erased by overclocking the core components to some impressive new levels.

XFX GeForce 7800GT PVT70GUDE7 $289 x 2 (After Rebate)

Seeing a GeForce 7800 GT at less than $300 is an offer too good to pass up, even for our mid-range, budget oriented system. Without a doubt, the quality and speed of graphics will impress anyone building a similar system to this configuration and price range. Although the GeForce 6800 GS is a very tempting and cheaper option, the additional features and performance of the GeForce 7800 GT make it worth spending the extra money. The particular XFX card we chose comes overclocked from the factory and can likely be pushed even further into GeForce 7800 GTX territory. For under $300, this card can be considered a bargain especially if it can match - or come close - to the $499 GeForce 7800 GTX's performance when overclocked. Those looking for more information on this card can reference our initial look at the XFX GeForce 7800 GT.

 

DFI LanParty UT NF4 SLI-DR $169.95

Ask any enthusiast what motherboard is the best overclocker and you're almost guaranteed to hear the DFI nForce4 SLI boards mentioned. The DFI LANPARTY UT nForce4 SLI-DR is easily one of the most feature-rich boards on the market and is equipped with an unparalleled amount of BIOS options and features that cater to the overclocker. Those looking for more information on this board can reference our own review of the board here, where a very similar board (a few more features) dominated the field of SLI motherboards and won our Editor's Choice award.

CORSAIR XMS 2GB (2 x 1GB) PC4000 (TWINX20484000PT)$255

System memory is easily one of the most critical components in terms of stability, reliability, and performance. For the last several years, we've used Corsair XMS modules with fantastic results. The matched kit we've selected will allow ample headroom for overclocking and offer blistering performance with tight timings. With the latest crop of games such as Battlefield 2 and Quake 4 taking advantage of as much memory as you can throw at it, the choice of a 2GB kit was obvious.

Western Digital Caviar RE2 WD4000YR 400GB 7200 RPM $218.50 x 2

Given this drive's plentiful supply of RAID-specific features and enhancements, it seems fitting to choose two of these drives to create a high-performance RAID array. Beyond the impressive 16MB cache and SATA support, the drive features RAID-specific time-limited error recovery (TLER) and Rotary Acceleration Feed Forward (RAFF). These features prevent drive fallout and offer higher vibration resistance allowing for higher reliability and performance.

Western Digital Raptor WD740GD 74GB 10,000rpm $136 x 2 (After Rebate)

For our core storage needs, the only fitting choice for a flagship system would be two 74GB Western Digital Raptor drives in a RAID 0 configuration. Spinning at 10,000rpm these consumer drives offer some of the highest read-write performance numbers money can buy. With 800GB worth of secondary drives for storage, the lack of space on these 74GB drives is far outweighed by the impressive performance they provide.

Dell UltraSharp 2405FPW 24" LCD $899.25

Despite the few changes from our flagship system to shave cost here and there, it seems impossible to do without the gorgeous 24" LCD from Dell we selected for that system. With a 24" wide-screen panel, 4 USB 2.0 ports, integrated 9-in-1 flash reader, and a blistering fast 12ms response time the Dell Ultrasharp 2405FPW was the ideal LCD monitor. Gamers can rejoice with an LCD that will allow for ghost-free gaming with more real estate than you can possibly imagine. To top it off, Dell is currently offering an unbelievable deal on this monitor that will make this LCD even more tempting than it already is.

 

 

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Overclocker's System (Continued)

 

Plextor PX-740A/SW-BL $59.99 (After Rebate)

Without question, the Plextor brand has always been synonymous with quality and performance for the optical drive market. We've opted to select the Plextor PX-740 DVD+/-RW for its ability to burn nearly any format on the market at some impressive speeds. With speeds this fast, backups and copies take significantly less time than most other standard 4x and 8x burners.

 

Antec Performance P180 case $124.99

When selecting a case, it is critical to consider noise, cooling, and aesthetics. Typically, it is easy to find a case that covers two of those categories though we rarely see a case that effectively handles all three. The new Antec Performance P180 case is one of those rare exceptions where it effectively covers all considerations. With a unique PSU orientation that places the hot (and noisy) power supply below the motherboard, Antec solves several key issues. First and foremost, installation of the motherboard and possibly a large aftermarket heatsink is now almost trivial with no space constraints caused by a power supply looming directly overhead. The case's three-layer panels also ensure that the system's sound will not be an issue as it effectively dampens noise. 

 

Antec TruePower II TPII-550 550W $89.99

For less than a hundred dollars, seeing an SLI-certified 550W power supply from a quality brand like Antec is enough to put a smile on anyone's face. Dual 12V outputs, effective cooling, and a total noise output of 21.3dBA make the True Power II an ideal choice for a power supply for this system. Even with two flagship graphics cards, a leading-edge processor, and four hard drives this power supply will be able to handle the load with ease.

AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+ $497

With two cores each featuring 1MB of L2 cache, the Toledo-cored Athlon 64 X2 4400+ is a performance monster with a price to match. Running at 2.2GHz, this processor is able to provide incredible performance in the latest and greatest games. Thanks to its dual-core architecture, this system should be able to breeze through even the most taxing applications or multi-window onslaught. Additionally, the Toledo core has seen some great success with overclockers and could be pushed to some impressive new speeds with adequate cooling.

 

Creative Labs X-Fi XtremeMusic $121.99

With developers putting more and more emphasis on the sound in today's game, it becomes critical to select a product that offers the highest functionality along with the highest performance. As we saw with our initial look at Creative's new X-Fi architecture with our review of the X-Fi XtremeMusic, this new architecture is now the staple of audio performance for the PC. Armed with nearly every feature of the flagship X-Fi products aside from XRam, the X-Fi XtremeMusic will be an enormous upgrade over onboard competition and should have little trouble satisfying hardcore gamers.

 

Logitech Z5500 speakers $219.98

With the exceptional sound of the X-Fi sound card at our disposal, it was crucial to select a speaker system that would do it justice. Fortunately, we've had ample exposure to Logitech's Z5500 speaker system in the past and have found them to be an incredible option which rivals some dedicated home theater systems. With 505W of power and possibly the largest subwoofer to ever be seen in a PC speaker configuration, the Logitech Z5500's provide audio bliss for anyone fortunate enough to use them. The built in hardware decoding for Dolby Digital and DTS is the icing on the cake for an already exceptional speaker package.

 

Logitech G15 Keyboard  $69.95

Hardcore gamers can now rejoice as Logitech has seen fit to provide the G15 keyboard with gaming-specific features such as a "protected" windows key. When in-game, the Windows key is disabled preventing the dreaded accidental key press that spits you out of your game. The GamePanel LCD also serves up game stats and system information while three levels of key backlighting makes any lighting condition perfect for gaming.

 

Logitech G5 Laser Mouse $53.65

One look at Logitech's new G5 laser mouse and it is easy to see why we've chosen it for this system. This unbelievable new mouse has a user selectable tracking resolution ranging from 2000/800/400 dpi, three sensitivity levels ranging from 400/1200/and 2000dpi, and an adjustable weight cartridge that lets the user select how much of a provided 38g of weight the user wants to customize the weight and feel of the mouse. Overall, there is no substitute for a mouse of this caliber.

 

Thermalright XP90c Heatsink  $66.99

At the end of the day, the performance of the Thermalright XP90c is as close to watercooling performance as you can get with traditional air cooling. Now the term traditional is very loosely used here as the XP90c is anything but your normal copper heatsink. The all copper design incorporates multiple heatpipes routed through a series of copper fins which are then soldered to the copper base for the most effective contact. When paired with a 92mm fan, this 690g behemoth is able to tame event the most unruly processors.

 

Evercool SFF9 92mm fan $8.49

Although nearly any high CFM and low-noise 92mm fan would work here, the Evercool SFF9 seems to be an excellent choice. With 41CFM and a low 22dBA noise level, the Evercool fan is able to provide high performance without the usual jet-engine squeal of most high performance fans.

 

Arctic Silver 5  $5.99

Easily the best bang for the buck, the use of Arctic Silver 5 will have a profound effect on overall cooling performance. When applied correctly, the use of Arctic Silver 5 can drop CPU temperatures by several degrees and can be the difference between an unstable system or a successful overclock.

 

 

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Budget System

The intent of our Budget System was to provide the highest total gaming performance we could muster for roughly $1,000. Here, the main emphasis was obviously GPU power with some strict criteria for CPU speed and available power to ensure we'd avoid bottlenecks and have the necessary power to fuel our hungry rig. Overall, you'll likely be surprised when you see the level of hardware we managed to squeeze into our budget.

XFX Geforce 7800GT PVT70GUDE7 $289

Seeing a GeForce 7800 GT at less than $300 is an offer too good to pass up, even for our budget oriented system. Without a doubt, the quality and speed of graphics will amaze anyone building a similar system to this configuration and price range. Although the GeForce 6800 GS is a very tempting and cheaper option, the additional features and performance of the GeForce 7800 GT make it worth spending the extra money. The particular XFX card we chose comes overclocked from the factory and can likely be pushed even further into GeForce 7800 GTX territory. For under $300, this card is an absolute bargain especially if it can match - or come close - to the $499 GeForce 7800 GTX while overclocked. Those looking for more information on this card can reference our initial look at the XFX GeForce 7800 GT.

 

DFI nF4 Ultra-Infinity nForce4 Ultra  $95.99

For less than a hundred dollars, the DFI nForce4 Ultra Infinity board provides all the bells and whistles of the nForce4 architecture with the omission of SLI support. For a budget system, SLI is not a very attractive option so having a single 16x PCI-E slot is more than enough especially when considering the fact that we're filling it with a single GeForce 7800 GT. Despite lacking some of the fancy additions and polish of its LANPARTY counterparts, the more economical Infinity board still has some excellent tweaking options in the BIOS and solid performance. In terms of sound, we'll be taking advantage of the onboard 6-channel audio with SPDIF digital output to match to our 5.1 surround speakers.

 

CORSAIR XMS 1GB (2 x 512MB) PC3200 $99

Given the fact that memory is often seen as the keystone of a stable system, it's nearly impossible to recommend a product from any company aside from the quality brands we know and use here such as Kingston or Corsair. Coming in just under a hundred dollars, we have some excellent Corsair XMS modules that have low timings and ample room for overclocking. Granted, you can find some generic alternatives and save some money. However, the peace of mind afforded from using modules form a quality brand like Corsair (XMS no less) is worth every additional penny in our book.

 

Maxtor DiamondMax 10 200GB 7200 RPM $88.50

For storage needs, we've opted to select a single 200GB drive from Maxtor. The drive features 16MB cache, SATA 150 support, and full NCQ support. As we saw when we reviewed this drive last month, this single drive is capable of providing ample performance with enough capacity to allow us to get away with using a single drive. Should you wish to create a RAID array down the road, you can easily do so for a small amount of money by grabbing a second identical drive. Paired with the onboard RAID of the nForce4 motherboard, you can choose between the speed of a RAID 0 or the integrity of a RAID 1 array.

 

Lite-On SOHW-1693S $38.99

Over the years, Lite-On has built a reputation for building high quality drives and offering them at an unbeatable price. The SOHW-1693S drive we've selected continues this trend by providing full DVD+/-RW support (including Dual-Layer discs) at a sub $40 price point. Although other more expensive drives might burn at faster speeds, you can't beat the Lite-On drive's dependability and price-performance ratio. Add a healthy bundle including Nero burning software and you'll see why we liked the drive so much for the price in our review of Dual Layer DVD+/-RW burners.

3G Technology GM-171B 17" LCD $179.96 (After Rebate)

With a 16ms response time, native 1280x1024 resolution, and respectable 450:1 contrast ratio this LCD is an excellent candidate for our budget system's monitor. Fortunately, this LCD should allow even the most budget-minded gamer the opportunity to have an excellent image to complement the exceptional performance this budget configuration will provide.

 

 

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Budget System (Continued)

 

Antec Sonata II Case w/ 450W Power Supply $99.00

For less than a hundred dollars, seeing a gorgeous case with a 450W power supply from a quality brand like Antec is enough to put a smile on anyone's face. Dual 12V outputs, effective cooling, noise-dampening features, and a beautiful glossy finish make this a no-brainer for a combination case and power supply. The power supply in question will be more than capable of handling our hefty GPU with ample power left to ensure solid stability and even some headroom for overclocking.

 

AMD Athlon 64 3500+ $204

The Venice-cored Athlon 64 3500+ is the processor of choice for the $200 range. Although it is a single-cored CPU, the 90u part runs at an effective 2.2GHz which should be more than fast enough to prevent the CPU from being a performance bottleneck anytime soon. In addition, the Venice core adds slight performance enhancements over previous cores including some memory controller tweaks and lower overall power consumption. Perhaps most importantly, this CPU is a current favorite amongst overclockers and has been seen to have an enormous amount of headroom. Although your mileage with overclocking might vary, getting even more performance for free out of this potent $200 processor is enough to make anyone smile.

Logitech X530 speakers $42.95 

For the price, the $43 Logitech x530 speakers are an absolute steal. With 70W of power and a full 5.1 assortment of speakers, the Logitechs will be able to satisfy nearly any gaming or musical need for speakers. Granted, you won't be mistaking these for a high end setup like the Logitech Z5500's we used for the flagship system. However, for a budget sound system you'd be hard pressed to find a better set of speakers than the Logitech x530's.

Logitech Media Elite Keyboard  $26.98

The Logitech Media Elite keyboard doesn't come with any significant enhancements beyond the standard or traditional keyboard. However, for the money the keyboard is exceptional with solid construction, an excellent layout, and dependable performance. Obviously, this is one personalized piece of hardware whose ideal product will vary from person to person. In practice, we've used this keyboard with great success and found it to be a great bargain for those looking for a cheap price and not a cheap piece of hardware.

 

Logitech G5 Laser Mouse $53.65

One look at Logitech's new G5 laser mouse and it is easy to see why we've chosen it for this system. This unbelievable new mouse has a user selectable tracking resolution ranging from 2000/800/400 dpi, three sensitivity levels ranging from 400/1200/and 2000dpi, and an adjustable weight cartridge that lets the user select how much of a provided 38g of weight the user wants to customize the weight and feel of the mouse. Overall, there is no substitute for a mouse of this caliber.

 

Arctic Silver 5  $5.99

Easily the best bang for the buck, the use of Arctic Silver 5 will have a profound effect on overall cooling performance. When applied correctly, the use of Arctic Silver 5 can drop CPU temperatures by several degrees and can be the difference between an unstable system or a successful overclock.

 

 

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Comparisons and Conclusion

For comparison's sake, we've calculated the totals and compared each configuration to its closest competitor to see what products changed and how those changes were reflected in the system's final cost.

Taking a look at the two fastest (and most expensive) configurations, we see that there is no doubt that an SLI system complete with RAID arrays and a hefty amount of memory is an expensive toy for all but the most wealthy gamers. However, what is surprising is the fact that the Overclocker system is likely to perform within a few percentage points of the flagship system. The single digit performance percentage does come at a price though and in this case, that price is a wallet-beating $2069.07 (without LCD). Obviously, a significant amount of money could be saved by changing components here and there. By opting to use only the two Raptor drives, you'd be saving a hefty $437 from the total cost of the system. Again, these are just suggested configurations and your hardware choices will largely be driven by your particular needs and preferences.

As we saw in the comparison above, the Overclocker system provides an excellent price/performance ratio. However, at just over $1,000 (minus LCD) the Budget system will provide exceptional performance for a (relatively) cheap price. For the price, you have a cutting-edge system that should be able to handle even the most demanding new games with ease thanks to the pairing of a high-end graphics card and a fast Athlon 64 3500+ processor. Those looking to take advantage of the overclocking prowess of the CPU's Venice core can spend a few additional dollars on an aftermarket heatsink assembly and test the waters of overclocking. Thanks to a robust component selection, the system will be more than up to the task.

What we've seen today has been three sample configurations at drastically different price points to illustrate the type of performance you can expect for a given amount of money. Although an unlimited amount of cash will always purchase the ultimate in performance, our configurations have shown us that you can come amazingly close to this pinnacle of performance for a fraction of the cost if sufficient care is taken when selecting components. There is the belief that you need to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a system in order to see all the eye candy in the latest crop of next-generation titles. However, our Budget system can tackle such an order with ease and it barely costs $1,000. Taking the speakers off the list or using a standard budget mouse would result in a sub $999 system for those dreading entry into a four-digit system cost.

In the end, each scenario has been created around the premise of building a killer gaming rig. When choosing which products to buy the next time you're shopping for hardware, consider all types of applications you'll be using in addition to gaming. Performance goes beyond pure framerates and significant changes in your experience can be seen by upgrades other than CPU's and graphics cards. Take what you know about your specific needs and combine that with the background information you'll find here at Hot Hardware and you're sure to have the tools necessary to construct your ideal system.

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